Summer’s Here, And There’s Something Missing From The Gulf of Mexico


Memorial Day is considered the official start of summer — even down here on the Gulf where the mercury’s been rising for some time now. It’s a great holiday for hitting the beach, going camping, and throwing great barbecue on the grill — maybe a choice steak, or maybe seafood. But so far 2012 hasn’t been the greatest year for what the Aussies call “shrimp on the barbie.” Down here on the Gulf Coast, there’s just not as many shrimp around, and the catch of the day is getting more expensive. There’s just something missing — the signs of abundant marine life that we used to enjoy before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago.

I’ve told you many times over the last couple of years about my intrepid aviator friend Bonny Schumaker. Bonny’s made repeated flights over the Gulf waters, and she’s consistently finding the things that neither BP nor the government want you to know about, whether it’s pollution from fresh slicks near the Macondo field or dead or diseased dolphins and sea turtles. A few days ago I received a new report from Bonny, and the information it contained was disturbing.

I am still concerned by the fact that on all five flights since April 06 in areas southeast and south of Louisiana out to as far as 180 nm (nautical miles), I have seen NO (zip, none!) whales or dolphin or large bait balls (note:”bait balls” are large schools of fish).

We saw one group of six cownose rays south of Grand Isle yesterday, and we THINK we saw one turtle about 50 nm south of Grand Isle.  Period.  And we’ve just returned from Dominica where we were finding sperm whales and sea turtles right and left, in very deep and rough water. Our eyes work.  The critters have not been there.  Yesterday, seas could not have been calmer.  True, air visibility was not great.  But we flew at 500′.  We could see well into the blue water, at least 30′ down.  The critters weren’t in our fields of view, period.

It would alarming enough if there were the only first-hand report I’ve been receiving of depleted or disappearing marine life along the Gulf, but it’s not. A contact in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, has reported that no marine birds or bottlenose dolphins are being observed consuming by-catch fishes behind shrimp boats in Lake Borgne. Where did these creatures of the sea go? Have they dispersed to cleaner waters — environments not contaminated by oil slicks or by the toxic dispersant that was sprayed in the Gulf? How many fish, birds or sea mammals have been killed?

If the poisoning from the Deepwater Horizon spill and BP’s recklessness had caused widespread damage to the environment, wouldn’t you be seeing that in the seaf0od catch? Well, that’s the bad news — that’s exactly what we’re seeing. Over the last year, we’ve been sharing with you the anecdotal evidence of eyeless shrimp, more fish with lesions and other deformities, and empty waters in the Gulf. But now an Auburn University study as well as raw data from the National Fisheries Marine Service — obtained and reported by the Associated Press — provides the clearest scientific evidence that the impact of the 2010 oil spill continues, and it is enormous.

In the critical Barataria estuary, in the heart of the damage from the oil spill, the shrimp haul was off by about 7 million pounds from an average of 18.1 million pounds between 2006 and 2009, while data showed the blue crab catch was off by 2.7 million pounds from an average of 9.5 million pounds between 2006 and 2009. The pummeling of the seafood industry is also taking a toll on the Louisiana economy. The Auburn study showed that seafood processors have cut 10 percent of their workforce since 2009, or 126 positions, and worker earnings were down another 10 percent, to $32.6 million last year.

Of course, there are numerous factors such as weather that can affect the catch from year to year, but the fisherman who work the Gulf have little doubt that the oil spill fallout is their biggest problem. Here is some of what the AP reported:

The long-term prognosis for the Gulf’s health remains uncertain.

Recent studies have found higher numbers of sick fish close to where BP’s well blew out and genome studies of bait fish in Barataria have identified abnormalities. Meanwhile, vast areas of the cold and dark Gulf seafloor are oiled, scientists say.

And many fishermen are convinced something’s amiss.“I think the oil can kill the shrimp eggs. That’s why there was no shrimp to catch last year,” said Tuna Pham, a 40-year-old Vietnamese-American shrimper docked in Lafitte. He said the catch this year was bad again.

Like I said, something’s missing this summer on the Gulf Coast. The facts of what is happening to our region’s fishermen are nothing like what you see in those slick BP tourism ads. Government and BP need to stop pretending there isn’t a long-term environmental catastrophe that doesn’t need a major, ongoing fix. The proof is what you don’t see in the warm blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

To read about the depleted shrimp and crab hauls in the Gulf, check out:

To find out more about the economic impact on the fishing fleet, go to:

To read my May 8 post about the release of photos showing deceased sea turtles and other environmental damage, go to

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • I will never understand why this was settled..
    If the shrimpers and commercial fisherman thnk the BP settlement is a bad deal…
    We know its also a very bad deal for charter boats….
    So who settled and why..

    WHy did the lawyers sign and approve this deal?

    All I can think of…. I had to be a good deal for them….

    Is big money going to the lawyers if there is a settlement?

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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